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This 1988 Cannon Films/Golan-Globus production stars Peter Fonda as an American Vietnam veteran named Virelli (in a role originally offered to Richard Kiel!) who gathers up a few other soldiers of fortune. Soon enough, DJ (Reb Brown), Cliff (Ron O'Neal) and Wilson (James Mitchum, and yes he is related to Robert, he's his oldest son and it shows) among others head off to Africa where they've been hired by a Colonel Kjemba (Robert DoQui) to protect a dam that's going to be built. It seems that there's some unrest in the area and those in charge of the fictional country want to make sure that the construction goes as planned. Why is there unrest? Because the people who live in the area where the dam will be built are none too keen on being flooded out of their homes.
Upon their arrival, it all starts to hit the fan fairly quickly as different warring factions each take their turn trying to kill off the mercenaries and blow up the dam and eventually DJ has a change of heart when he falls for a nurse named Warwick (Joanna Weinberg). When Virelli and the rest realize that they've been lied to and have essentially been played by the country's leadership as fools, they decide it's time to set things right.
This is a ridiculously by the numbers film, almost remarkable for how unremarkable it really is. What stands out about it, however, is the Reb Brown factor. Those familiar with his fine work in the made for TV Captain America movies and in the mighty Space Mutiny will already be familiar with his acting style, but for those not up to speed it generally involves a lot of yelling, taking off his shirt, and punching and sometimes shooting things. In this movie he gets to do all of those things, sometimes at the same time. Peter Fonda just sort of coasts through this thing, not really trying very hard but looking cool in black sunglasses as he flies around in a helicopter overtop of impoverished tribal villages dropping grenades on the poor bastards below. Ron O'Neal is… well, damn, Ron O'Neal was Superfly so he gets a 'get out of jail free' card and he gets to fly the helicopter. Take that, whitey! At least Ron tries to make his character memorable, you can't really give anyone else in this movie credit for that.
So yeah, Mercenary Fighters has got a pretty cool cast. You get the guy from Easy Rider, the guy from Captain America, Superfly and Robocop's boss and you get one of Robert Mitchum's kids all in the same movie. But is that enough? In and of itself, no, as the only ones who seem to be trying are Brown and O'Neal and Brown doesn't count because he's either yelling aimlessly or grinning brainlessly. Thankfully, this is a movie where a lot of stuff blows up, and that definitely helps to take a lot of the string out of the potential more or less wasted by the cast. At one point Brown goes Rambo, looping ammo into a belt fed machine gun and yelling while everything around him blows up. Moments like this definitely matter to action movie fans, and this one does deliver plenty of awesome bits like that, the kind that put hair on your chest. It may not be a thinking man's movie and it may not do anything that we haven't seen before (though the plot is oddly reminiscent of Avatar so maybe it deserves more credit than it gets?) but it's got Reb Brown in it, lots of stuff blows up and violent in that awesome Cannon Films sort of way. Not one of the best of their catalogue but definitely a fun way to kill an hour and a half.
Kino/Code Red brings Mercenary Fighters to region A Blu-ray on a 25GB disc with the ninety-four minute feature taking up just under 23.8GBs of space on the 25GB disc and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The movie was previously released on DVD-R by the MGM Limited Edition Collection back in 2011. Touted on the packaging as being taken from a new 2k master, minor print damage shows up throughout but it's mostly just small white specks and the like rather than anything more drastic than that. Colors are nice and bright, quite bold in spots, without looking oversaturated or artificially boosted, and black levels are solid. Detail is noticeably stronger than what we had on the old DVD-R release, especially in close up shots, though it can vary a bit from one scene to the other. The transfer is free of noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues and always looks like film, which is obviously a plus. Overall this looks pretty solid, if not quite perfect.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. The mix sounds good, the score in particular has some good presence to it and if the gun shots don't always sound as powerful as maybe they could have, at least the dialogue is clean and easy to follow.
Aside from menus and chapter selection options, the disc also includes a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for Terror Squad, The Violent Breed, Checkered Flag Or Crash, Toy Soldiers and The Last Hunter.
Mercenary Fighters is a lot of big, dumb fun, a very eighties action movie through and through that works thanks to some strong pacing, plenty of exciting set pieces and a great cast of B-movie stalwarts. The Blu-ray from Kino/Code Red could have used more extras to be sure, but it does offer a pretty nice presentation for the feature and comes recommended to fans of action movies made in the Golan-Globus style.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.